Let’s be honest, Brits don’t generally have a good reputation abroad do they? Ask most people what they would associate British expats around the world with, and you will mostly hear negative (unprintable) words. Only five years ago, as thousands of British expats fled Dubai during the height of the recession, I would argue the reputation was well deserved. Over spending, over indulging and over the top (I’m being polite here).
But our countdown of the UAE’s 50 most influential Brits shows that there is also another, far more impressive side to the 100,000 plus British community residing in this part of the world: staggering success. Putting together this list turned out to be much harder work than we estimated, as there were a good deal more names that deserve recognition than the 50 we have published.
Nevertheless, it is worth highlighting a few within the list, starting with the very top — Sir Tim Clark, president of Emirates Airline, who takes the number one slot. Can anyone argue with this choice? Definitely not. Just two weeks ago the airline reported an incredible set of figures with profits up by 42.5 percent to $887m in the last financial year. Sir Tim has been at the heart of Emirates since the airline was founded back in 1985. I have met him on a few occasions and he typifies the very best of British: straight talking, focused, determined, and just bloody good at what he does. Without him and another Brit on our list, Sir Maurice Flanagan, I wonder where Emirates would be today? The answer is probably nowhere near where it is now.
As it turns out, the Brits appear to be taking over the UAE’s key transport positions. Paul Griffiths, as CEO of Dubai Airports, has helped create one of the biggest and best airports in the world (Dubai International) and now is doing it all over again at Al Maktoum International. Doing an equally impressive job down the road at Abu Dhabi Airports is Tony Douglas, another Brit.
When it comes to banking and finance, again no shortage of British stars. The UAE’s biggest bank, National Bank of Abu Dhabi, is run by Alex Thursby. You guessed it… another Brit. The registrar of the DIFC Courts is Mark Beer, who rightly got an OBE in the last honours list. When it comes to media, there’s the very British Sam Barnett who heads up media giant MBC. Likewise, the dynamic boss of Starcom MediaVest Group John Antoniades.
There is a good case to be made that the two most respected property experts in this town are British, in the shape of Nick Maclean at CBRE and Alan Robertson at JLL. (Were Ryan Mahoney British, he too would join this category).
But it isn’t all about big business. The work being undertaken by the Emirates Foundation for Youth Development is truly inspiring and vital for the future of this country. Running the show is a Brit, Clare Woodcraft-Scott. My own favourite is Lucy Bruce, who established Harmony House, a day-shelter for destitute children in India. Anyone who has met her and tells you they are not hugely impressed is either lying or jealous.
Statistics on exactly how many Brits are in the UAE tends to vary a lot depending on who you ask. The embassy suggests 100,000 — other experts put the figure nearer 240,000. The only thing everyone agrees on is that more and more Brits are coming to the UAE. When you look at our top 50, you can see why.